Indonesian indigenous groups look to tourists to protect forests

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 09, 2015 12:01 PM

OSLO (Reuters) - Indonesian indigenous communities launched a project on Friday to encourage foreign tourism in ancestral forests to slow the advance of logging operations and palm oil plantations.

The GreenIndonesia non-governmental organization, working with six indigenous groups, said the plan would ease poverty, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diversify from traditional forest-based incomes such as weaving.

"We're trying to draw tourists to areas of Indonesia where communities are working to preserve their land and ... show how they are helping to prevent forests from being lost," Chandra Kirana, head of GreenIndonesia, said.

The project was inspired by similar initiatives in the Amazon region of Latin America, she said at a tourism exhibition in Oslo.

Raymundus Remang, head of the Sui Utuk community in West Kalimantan, said the villagers, who have preserved 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of forest from illegal logging and palm oil expansion, would welcome more visitors. Tourists could stay in the community's vast longhouse, where about 250 people live.

"Everyone in the village has the same feeling of having to protect the forest because it comes from our ancestors," he told Reuters via an interpreter.

Indonesia has lost vast tracts of forests in recent years, threatening the livelihoods of forest peoples as well as endangered creatures such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers.

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Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar endorsed the eco-tourism project and said the government of President Joko Widodo, who took office in October, was working on a decree recognising the rights of indigenous groups.

GreenIndonesia's Kirana said she hoped the initiative would draw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tourists in a first year. She added the communities would seek ways to limit the extra stresses on fragile ecosystems from more visitors.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Sam Wilkin)